• Kyodo, AFP-Jiji

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Japan joined a U.S.-led international agreement Wednesday that outlines the exploration and utilization of resources in space, the government said.

The Artemis Accords proposed by NASA seeks to establish a set of principles for space exploration including lunar resource extraction. China and Russia are not members of the framework.

The agreement also covers issues regarding space debris and stipulates that its members will not interfere with their counterparts’ endeavors on the moon.

“I hope it will become a guide to implementing future international regulations,” said science and technology minister Shinji Inoue in a video message for an online signing ceremony.

The treaty paves the way for its founding members — Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the United States — to participate in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to Earth’s nearest neighbor by 2024.

“Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“With today’s signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy.”

While NASA is leading the Artemis program, it has emphasized the need for international partnerships in building up a sustainable presence on the moon, something the agency views as key ahead of an eventual human mission to Mars.

The agency hopes, for example, to excavate ice from the moon’s south pole for drinking water. It also hopes the molecules can be split apart to make rocket fuel for the onward journey.

It also plans to establish an orbital space station called Gateway.

A different international framework, the Outer Space Treaty, has been ratified by over 100 countries but does not set rules on resource extraction, while the United Nations’ so-called Moon Agreement bars individuals and businesses from claiming possession of celestial bodies but has not been ratified by leading space exploration countries such as the United States, Russia, China and Japan.

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